NEWS BLOG (WSAU) From time to time there’s a debate over whether Wisconsin should have toll roads. The discussion is a waste of time. New toll roads aren’t allowed under federal law.
I know, we think ‘why not’ as we shovel our quarters into the toll baskets as we drive to Chicago. We’d love to return the favor to those Illinois tourists as they head into Wisconsin.
But the rules for new tolls are clear. Tolls are allowed on roads that were paid for by federal dollars only for congestion-mitigation. Charging a toll, or a higher usage fee, during rush hour or other high-usage times when roads are clogged is allowed. In Washington-think this is considered a green policy, pushing more people to public transit or encouraging commuting during off-times.
States are also free to set up tolls on roads that aren’t paid for with federal dollars. All large-scale roads in Wisconsin were built, in part, with federal highway funds.
Most states simply throw up their hands. The costs of making existing roads ‘toll ready’ is expensive; the only practical choices for toll roads are privately funded expressways – like providing quick by-pass access to an airport. Those tolls are used to pay off the private bonds that made the road possible. They’re not a revenue-source for the state.
The other money raising ideas for transportation projects are unappealing: a one-cent-per-mile odometer tax probably doesn’t have support to pass. Higher registration fees were opposed by Governor Walker in his last term. A 5-cent increase in the gas tax would be unpopular. But at least those choices are possible. Toll roads in Wisconsin are not.